The world is freaking out about the spread of the coronavirus, and many travelers are impacted. The World Health Organization has declared a global public health emergency with the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a previously unknown strain of coronavirus. Flights to outbreak hot spots are being cancelled left and right, and many companies are issuing policies against nonessential travel. People are scared to fly because of fear of exposure to the coronavirus. Airline stocks are plummeting.
Airlines are trying to help restore faith by allowing flexibility for NEW tickets. It’s important to note that many of these waivers for changing and cancelling flights DO NOT apply to tickets that were purchased before the outbreak. If your actual flight has been cancelled, then, yes, you are typically entitled to a refund. But if you proactively cancel your travel plans and did not purchase your airline tickets within the window specified by your carrier, don’t expect to get anything back. In fact, we recently decided to cancel some of our March and April flights to Europe and the Middle East—across multiple airlines—and because these tickets had been purchased in early February, the official nonrefundable ticket restrictions applied (read: we got nothing back). Here are the current official stances of several major airlines in response to the coronavirus, helping to assuage fears and drum up business.
American Airlines and current coronavirus policies
“If you purchased a ticket on American Airlines between March 5, 2020 at 9 a.m. CT and March 31, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. CT, you may change your flight once without paying a change fee. Tickets must be purchased for travel between March 5, 2020 and January 30, 2021. Any difference in fare will apply.
“For tickets purchased between March 1, 2020 at 4:30 p.m. CT and March 4, 2020, you may change your flight once without paying a change fee if the change is made at least 14 days before your original travel date. Any difference in fare will apply.”
AAdvantage® award tickets are not eligible for this waiver whatsoever nor are tickets purchased before March 1, 2020.
Delta Airlines and current coronavirus policies
“For all tickets issued between March 1, 2020 – March 31, 2020, ticket can be changed one-time to an alternate itinerary. Must be re-issued on/before: February 28, 2021 and rebooked travel must begin no later than: February 28, 2021. The change fee will be waived, however, a difference in fare may apply. You may choose to cancel your trip and use the value towards a future flight.” The verbiage indicates this policy applies to Delta SkyMiles® tickets.
“For international tickets purchased on or before March 1, 2020, the change fee will be waived, however, a difference in fare may apply for new tickets re-issued on/before: May 31, 2020.” Alternatively, “You may choose to cancel your trip, and use the value towards a future flight. Applicable change fee and fare difference will apply for new travel dates and will be collected at the time of booking the new ticket.” Note, this latter policy is just the standard Delta policy. Domestic tickets purchased on or before March 1, 2020, are subject to standard Delta policies.
JetBlue and current coronavirus policies
JetBlue is suspending “change and cancel fees for all new flight bookings made between March 6, 2020 and March 31, 2020 for travel through September 8, 2020. The change/cancel fees suspension [also] applies for bookings made between February 27, 2020 and March 5, 2020 for travel through June 1, 2020.” This policy applies to all mileage bookings during the same time frame.
United Airlines and current coronavirus policies
“For tickets issued March 3 through March 31, 2020, customers will be permitted to change free of charge to a flight of equal or lesser value up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date. If the new flight is priced higher, the customer may change for no fee but must pay the fare difference. If the new flight is priced lower, the customer may change for free but no residual value will be given. If the customer decides to cancel their flight, they can retain the value of the ticket to be applied to a new ticket without fee for travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date.”
Mileage Plus® award tickets should be eligible for this waiver. United states this waiver “applies to all tickets, all fare types, all destinations, all points-of-sale, all travel dates available for sale, provided ticket number starts with 016.” Mileage Plus tickets, in our experience, start with 016.
Tickets purchased before March 3, 2020, are not eligible for the waiver. That said, there are special refund and change policies for tickets purchased before March 3, 2020, for several destinations including Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Seoul, and northern Italy.
Southwest Airlines and current coronavirus policies
“Southwest Airlines never charges Customers a fee to change or cancel their flight. If a Customer’s plans change, or they decide they no longer want to travel, the funds used to pay for their flight can be applied to future travel – as long as they cancel their flight at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. The funds are valid for future travel up to one year from the original purchase date and must be used by the individual named on the ticket.” Wouldn’t it be great if all other airlines followed Southwest’s standard fee-free policy!